Nikon 50mm 1.8D vs Nikon 50mm 1.8G

So for those long in the tooth with an existing 50mm 1.8D and considering upgrading or perhaps a new user wondering which lens to buy we have the great battle, Nikon 50mm 1.8D vs Nikon 50mm 1.8G. How does the new Nikon 50mm 1.8G lens compare to the older veteran, and is it worth upgrading to its younger sibling?

First of all let me kick this off by saying this is not intended to be a scientific test, I’m not a scientist, I’m a photographer. As a Wedding Photographer my perspective isn’t about MTF charts or lab condition test charts, its about real world application and to certain extent, my own subjective interpretation of the image. That means while it may not be scientifically ‘better’ I may indicate a preference for one over the other for no reason other than subjective opinion.

The testing undertaken here is part of the standard testing I perform on any new piece of equipment before taking it into the field on a paid job.

Nikon 50mm F1.8D

Lets kick this off with the veteran 50mm F1.8D. The lens was first introduced in 2001, making it an older design by comparison. I’ve owned my copy of this lens for about 10 years and I’ve never been disappointed with the results from it. When I’m shooting in low light, for example the first dance or I want to use available light during bridal preparations its been my go to lens and it always delivers.

Even today it still thrashes all of my Zooms in sharpness including the highly regarded Nikon 70-200 F4 VR costing £900 and released over 10 years later.

Nikon 50mm F1.8G

The ‘new’ variant of this lens was released in 2011. The ‘G’ suffix means its ‘Gelded’ so it doesn’t have an aperture ring like the older 50mm 1.8D which makes it incompatible with some  older film cameras.  This really isn’t a problem for any pro or anybody using a camera made in the last 10 years or so as all modern Nikon cameras allow you to change the aperture on the camera body.

What the newer lens gains is an AF-S motor, or ‘Auto Focus – Silent’ which offers fast autofocus speeds with near silent operation. Not that the older 50mm 1.8D was slow or noisy, it isn’t. what the motor gives you that is a real advantage in increased compatibility with some newer camera bodies that do not feature their own autofocus motor. Modern cheaper bodies such as the Nikon D3200 rely on the lenses own motor to focus itself, more fully featured camera bodies such as the D4 will have a motor to autofocus lenses without their own motor.

Practical Comparisons

Weight – The newer 50mm 1.8G is 28g heavier, in practical terms they are both about the same.

Size – The 50mm 1.8g is marginally longer and slightly wider than the older 50mm 1.8D. Biggest difference is filter thread size, which increases from 52mm to 58mm which makes purchasing filters slightly more expensive. For every day carry the size of both is comparable.

Focus speed – The newer 50mm 1.8G is a noticeably faster, particularly locking on in dim conditions, although I have had no complaints in 10 years of use of the older Nikon 50mm 1.8D. This is the benefit of the internal AF-S motor over it’s older sibling, paid for with a slight increase in weight and size.

Build Quality – Both are pretty much comparable in terms of overall build, however the newer 50mm 1.8G does have a rubber gasket on the mount to provide a degree of weather sealing the older lens does not giving it a slight edge.

Ergonomics – To my mind the newer 50mm 1.8G has a clearer edge here with the ability to manually adjust focus even in autofocus move thanks to the AF-S motor. The ‘grippy’ bit of the focus ring on the newer 50mm 1.8G is also almost twice as wide than that on the Nikon 50mm 1.8D, although to be fair the total focus ring surface area is comparable and because it covers the end ‘lip’ of the lens, maybe easier to find, particularly with gloves on. The newer 50mm 1.8G variant also has a more modern depth of focus scale which to my mind is clearer to read.

Cost – The cost is comparable, newer Nikon 1.8G is 28% more expensive as of May 2015, however in practical terms the difference is only £30 which is small change when lense shopping. Both lenses are so good they would both still be excellent value at twice the price.

So far so good, both lenses are a steal at their price points so lets get on to the bit you are probably most interested in, image quality.

Sharpness – The newer 50mm F1.8G is a noticeably sharper across the entire range from F1.8 to F16. The largest difference in sharpness are displayed when the lens is wide open, by F5.6 while the 50mm 1.8g is still sharper, the difference is marginal.

Have a look at the tests shots below. In all photos camera was mounted on a tripod, WB and exposure set to Auto and shot on a Nikon D700. Nikon 50mm F1.8D on the left and Nikon 50mm F1.8 on the right.

f2-8 copyF1.8







f4 copyF8


Both lenses are great. In the areas that interest me most however the Nikon 50mm 1.8G is the better lens. If you were faced with buying either of these and didn’t already own one I would recommend the Nikon 50mm f1.8G.

If however you already owned the Nikon 50mm F1.8D and where considering upgrading I would be a little more hesitant. If you were a professional and absolutely needed to shoot wide open then small increase in image sharpness reasonably justifies the relatively small expense of upgrading to the newer lens. If however you mainly worked in the studio at F5.6 and F8 or simply didn’t need to shoot below say F4 on a regular basis I would suggest sticking with your existing lens.

The only other reason to upgrade would be if you were using one of the newer budget end DSLR cameras without a autofocus motor such as the D3200, as without its own Autofocus motor the 50mm F1.8D will be manual focus only on that camera, while the 50mm F1.8 will provide full autofocus.

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